Disciplining a teenager can often be difficult, and you may feel like you want to give up—especially when your tween or teen is bigger, taller, or louder than you! Teens often feel like they will never get caught, so consequences don’t even cross their mind. When they do get caught, they often figure out ways to evade getting caught a second time. Many parents throw their hands up in defeat and give in to the false belief that their role as a disciplinarian is over. I want to encourage you to press on! These are important years for parenting, and discipline shouldn’t stop just because your child is now a young adult.

I’d like to offer a few things to consider when disciplining your tween or teen for poor choices. These aren’t “how to’s” as much as strategies to keep in mind when coming up with consequences for actions.

  1. Fight for the relationship. Though something might have been damaged—like a car or a piece of furniture—those can be fixed. Trust and respect, however, are almost impossible to replace once they are gone. When your teen makes a bad choice that ends up impacting you or others, remember to protect your relationship with your teen above becoming angry about a material object. Treat your son or daughter with respect, while acknowledging the bad choice and how it is impacting others.
  2. Look ahead to the finish line. When your teen does something wrong, don’t focus on their character now but where you want them to be down the road. Teens make immature choices; they may lie, cheat, steal, or be sneaky. But that doesn’t mean they will always do those things. Discipline them now, with the character in mind you are helping them develop.
  3. Remind your tween of the natural consequences of poor choices. If drinking will cause them to be dismissed from a sports team, help your tween to see their goals and make choices that align with those goals.
  4. Come up with consequences together. Bring your tween or teen into the process. Not only does it help them see their wrong and evaluate it, it treats them as an adult (despite their childish behavior!) by communicating you value their opinion. Often, teens will come up with discipline that is more severe than you would have given them!

Keep in mind that just as God uses discipline to instruct and correct you toward maturity, you are to use discipline to guide your son or daughter toward maturity. Ultimately, the goal is to raise young adults who not only make wise decisions that will benefit them, but also adult children who will make godly decisions that reflect God’s character.

Let’s say your son or daughter has begun to hang out with kids that aren’t the best influence. One day, he or she is called into the principal’s office because that group of kids sprayed graffiti all over a wall in the back of the school. Your tween is suspended but says he had nothing to do with it. One Scripture you might use is 1 Corinthians 15:33 which says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’” Using this tough situation, you might open a conversation about how simply being around someone who makes bad choices might sweep them up into a “guilty by association” situation—and that it might be wise to consider how much one would want to be linked with a person or group.

Or, perhaps you’ve caught your teen in a couple of white lies. You could open the Bible together and read Numbers 32:23: “But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out.” Help your tween or teen to understand that even when they get away with a fib, they aren’t lying to you or another person—they are lying to God who sees all things. And the second part of that verse comes with a warning: your sin will find you out! Why? Because God loves His children so much He will “bring to the light that which is in darkness” (Ephesians 5:11–14). He doesn’t want anyone to be tied up in sin and will allow for your teen to “get caught” so he can be freed of it.

Try to keep in mind that though it’s tricky to discipline teens, and the end goal is instruction toward maturity in Jesus—not punishment for the crime! Be patient, however! Sometimes this takes more time than you would like! I know parenting tweens and teens can be frustrating at times. Please know I’m an email away. Don’t hesitate to reach out!

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